Saturday, March 7, 2009

A Stomp in the Swamp

As my friend Erin pointed out to me yesterday: "Jess [pronounced 'yes' in Spanish], you can remember new flavors you've tasted, but not whether someone owes you money?"  It is true, so if any of you owe me money out there, consider yourself lucky, because I don't recall any of these debts.  But I think it's a pretty good insight into my character; I definitely value experience way more than I value monetary sums.  If I was faced with the choice between one million dollars or a trip to Indonesia (orangutans included of course), I would easily pick Indonesia...or I'd use the million dollars to fund my trip to Indonesia.

Anyway, I've picked up and moved again in Costa Rica, and am currently in the NW part of the country at a national park called Palo Verde. It is a marsh, meaning lots of water, mud, and bugs.  It's the dry season, so the mosquitoes are next to nothing - supposedly in the wet season, you walk through an area and the ground slowly rises with the small humming bloodsuckers...they would eat me alive, since I am deemed "sweet meat."  I count my blessings that we're here in the dry season. But the rest of the bugs are crazy: giant praying mantises that follow you with their creepy eyes, cockroaches the size of my hand, and big kamikaze katydids by the dozen. 

There is also a bug here we were warned about called the Assassin Bug: it creeps onto you while you are sleeping and sucks your blood, using an anticoagulant.  This is all fine and dandy, except the bug often defecates right after its meal, close to the open wound.  In your unconscious state, you feel a tickle of the blood on your skin, and try to wipe it off; this mixes the bug poop with your blood and goes back into your bloodstream.  This all would be just a mild nasty story, except that the Assassin bug is a carrier of Chagas disease, which weakens your heart over time and eventually causes it to fail.  That makes it a scary nasty story.  I am glad we have bug nets for our beds here. They also keeps out the scorpions.

The average daily temp here is 90F, often making it too hot to nap in the afternoon - if any part of your body contacts another, you begin sweating profusely.  Yet it's a worthwhile tradeoff for the beauty of this place...

Like most bodies of freshwater, the marsh draws all sorts of higher-level organisms, including lots of bird species like egrets, storks, roseate spoonbills, and huge waders called jabirus.  There are also crocodiles and caimans in the marsh, adding a dash of danger to any walk in the muddy waters.  On land, there are two species of monkeys: mantled howler monkeys and white-faced capuchins.  We get to see both fairly often which is awesome.  At around 530 every morning, the howlers let out a disconcerting gutteral roar that shakes you the first time you hear it. Wild. 

The other cool land animals I've gotten to see include coatimundis, which are like large raccoons with super long tails, tamanduas, which are big slow anteaters, collared peccary, which are little pigs, and - best of all - the ctenosaurs (pronounced teen-o-sawrs), which are big iguanas that lay around all day and strangely remind me of Reptar.  There is also a pair of scarlet macaws that fly overhead almost daily, and it still amazes me.

But my semester here is not all fun all the time; we still have a fair bit of work assigned to us.  In our first week we were involved in faculty-led projects that took us out into the field at 5am, and then for my independent project I found myself getting up at 430am for a week straight.  To study flowers. But doing hands-on research has been cool, since I love being in the field collecting data.  One of the faculty-led projects was studying howler monkey time budgeting, so we got to follow a troop of howler monkeys for 6 hours and record whether they were eating, sleeping, or pooping.  Not the most exciting work, but it was an excuse to tromp through the woods following monkeys.  The next project also involved hours of observation, except it was spent watching plants instead of animals.  Not as exciting.  In fact a little mind-numbing. 

The independent project was more in depth and involved collecting nectar from morning glory buds at dawn, then measuring the volume and concentration.  Suffice it to say the project was looking at plant behavior - a very interesting concept, given most people only attribute behavior to animals.  The idea that plants can react and actually interact is a relatively new field...and it reminds me a little of the talking trees in Lord of the Rings.

But once all the data was collected, the research paper needed to be written...all 10 pages of it.  Fortunately, I've gotten a lot of practice with such things, especially during my time in Kenya!  Next up, a visit to the mangroves, followed by exam week.  

Learn Spanish!
  • marsh: humidales
  • monkey: mono
  • flavor: sabor
  • high five: alto cinco
  • awesome: wepa!!
Also, my photo library is being moody, so my posts may not contain pictures again until I reach San Jose.  Use your imagination!

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